In Memory of Richard H. Drummond

Apr 22, 2013 | Kristi Lynch

“In Memory of Richard H. Drummond”



By Lyle D. Vander Broek

Professor of New Testament

The University of Dubuque Theological Seminary


We who knew Dr. Richard Drummond, Florence Livergood Warren Professor of the History of Comparative Religions (Emeritus) at UDTS, celebrate what God has given to us through this man.  He was a gentle and loving person, a caring husband and parent, a faithful churchman, and a Christian scholar and teacher of wide renown.  Our prayers and condolences are with his beloved wife Pearl (to whom he was married 69 years) and his children (Donald, Lowell, and Angela), grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. 

Dr. Drummond received his Ph.D. in classics from the University of Wisconsin (Madison) before he went to seminary (Lutheran Theological Seminary, Gettysburg, PA).  He and his family served as missionaries in Japan for ten years prior to his appointment at UDTS in 1962.  My association with Richard began in 1983.  By that time he was a well-established scholar, and I regarded him as an intellectual giant.  His linguistic gifts were especially impressive.  His Japanese was more than simply “good” -students visiting from Japan called his use of the language “eloquent.”  As a classics scholar he knew his Greek, Hebrew, and Latin very well.  In fact, as a young New Testament Greek professor, I approached him several times with questions about the Greek text, and he invariably had a ready (and correct) answer.

Dr. Drummond published important books, and in an amazing variety of areas.  His History of Christianity in Japan, written in 1971, is still a widely used resource.  He penned a number of monographs that broke new ground in the field of Christian ecumenism and, more broadly, interfaith dialogue.  Among these works are Gautama the Buddha: An Essay in Religious Understanding (1974), Toward a New Age in Christian Theology (1985), and A Broader  Vision: Perspectives on the Buddha and the Christ (1995).  As late as 2005, when Richard was in his late 80s, he published Islam for the Western Mind: Understanding Muhammad and the Koran.

Genesis (6:1-4) speaks about a time when “giants walked the earth,” and for me that has become a fitting image for Richard Drummond.  Even apart from his scholarly achievements, his stature is defined in my mind by two remarkable characteristics.  In spite of the fact that he was a towering intellectual, he always had time for the struggling or less-gifted student.  Richard was never an intellectual elitist.  Even though his courses had high demands, students knew they could come to Dr. Drummond for help, and they often did.  Seeing a line of students in Van Vliet waiting to see their demanding yet compassionate professor was not uncommon.

Just as important, Richard walked tall because his deep grounding in the Christian faith allowed him the freedom to explore issues that some Christians would have considered off-limits.  He was a visionary ecumenist, exploring ways in which Christianity and other religions can work together because they serve the same divine ends.  Dr. Drummond studied the paranormal and mystical elements of religion in the work of Rudolf Steiner and Edgar Cayce.  Based on his research in the writings of the early church, Richard investigated reincarnation as a way of thinking about the Christian afterlife.  There was always a boldness about Richard’s thought that was surely the product of his deep immersion in the life of the mind of the Reformed Tradition.

Dr. Richard Drummond was one of those gifted people who could have chosen any career.  What he in fact chose was to serve the Church in this rather humble setting.   Working with Dr. Drummond was a formative experience for me, and I know that his work powerfully shaped countless pastors and the larger Church.  Thanks be to God for Richard’s ministry to us!